Tel Aviv Trip

IMGP2267Took a weekend jaunt to Tel Aviv, to see the beach, some city sites, and well the beach. Staying in Tel Aviv was a huge sigh of relief. Rather than being a city divided between Israel and Palestine, Tel Aviv is primarily Israeli. There isn’t the threat of demonstrations getting violent, or the underlying tension that occurs when two sparing groups co-inhabit in a relatively small city. I didn’t feel like I was getting constantly judged by the ultra religious folk who disapprove of wearing tank tops or showing my hair.

IMGP2250 IMGP2213

Tel Aviv is a beautiful combination of beach front joints, and a city full of great cafes and boutiques. Not terribly unlike Southern California, except the planes flying over the beach weren’t carrying banners of advertisements and marriage proposal, they were carrying explosives en route to Gaza, and instead of  fireworks, there were missiles. While Tel Aviv doesn’t have the rich history of Jerusalem, its much more friendly for long term residence. The people were incredibly friendly, and I made friends just hanging out on the beach. As I’ll be returning to the landlocked state of CO, I already have another trip to the beach planned.

IMGP2217 IMGP2355

Advertisements

Within the walls

IMGP2121

Stepping into the Old City of Jerusalem is an assault on your senses. The ancient city explodes with commercial stalls overflowing with colorful goods, and the even more colorful characters who sell them. The plethora of spice shops with bins of neatly pilled cinnamon and cardamom fill the air with delicious fragrances. The spicy smells only last until wandering into the butcher alley where animal organs not even known to be edible are on display, permeating the air along with the extraneous juices from the butchering process. Soon enough though the produce stalls fill the air, and flirt the senses with stacks of beautiful fruit, and various unidentifiable vegetables.

IMGP2046 IMGP2007

The best parts of the Old City are the pockets of genuine humanity, often hidden by the overwhelming presence of “salesmen.” The old men playing backgammon, hanging out at the barber shop, sleeping on the job, shooting the shit with their friends across the alley. The crowds of people clamoring at the bread cart as he momentarily stops his mobile store. The mothers buying the parts of the evening Ramadan Meal, or their counterparts preparing for Shabbat. The best place to experience these glimpses into real life is the Arab Quarter where the store keepers are more concerned with selling their shoes or house-hold tools, than even looking at the passing tourists.

IMGP2104 IMGP2100 IMGP2128

Its nearly impossible to get to a specific place on purpose in the Old City. The narrow alleys and rows of identical stores immediately steal away any sense of direction. I find that its best to go with the flow and see what wonderful things the circus of the Old City brings your way.

IMGP1902 IMGP1992

The Update.

photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Call it American paranoia, but I’ve chosen to stay close to “home” this weekend. The update from actual news reporters.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/clashes-in-jerusalem-galilee-as-protests-spread/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/05/world/middleeast/israel.html?_r=0

Like usual, things sound much bigger and widespread than they really are. I’m not making a call on the importance or severity of the situation, more like the physical location. Although we are also staying in Jerusalem, close to Damascus Gate, we haven’t so much as heard any evidence of disturbances. The only indication of clashes we’ve encountered are a significant increase in police and military presence, and a slowdown of public transportation. Mom, I’m OK.

Unexpected Reunion

Upon arrival in Israel, I hit up my social media world to see if I had any connections in my current location. Some were dead-ends, but one turned into a beautiful reunion. Erika, a friend from my days at Chapman University, and Rock Harbor Church was also in this fine city, and even better actually wanted to hang out.

IMGP1565
We grabbed some coffee and set off to take the city by storm, or just walk several laps around town. The majority of our time was spent making tracks in the old city and hitting up two of the three main religious sites, including the Church of the Sepulchre, and the Western Wall. We continued to wind through, around, and over the old city. 

IMGP1570

After we had gotten our fill of extremely old, and extremely important sites, we made our way to the newer part of the city. As Erika had already spent a couple weeks here she was happy to show me some great spots, along with places that are actually open on Shabbat.

IMGP1677

Our adventure didn’t end there, we made our way to the Arab neighborhood close to my house for falafel and some World Cup madness. Holland was playing and I have adopted them as my secondary team to cheer for. I’m already a shameless bandwagon World Cup fan, I’m totally ok with picking and choosing my teams. It was a delightful time hanging with a heard of old dudes smoking hookah and cheering on teams that neither of us actually had roots with.

IMGP1693

Hang day with Erika was grand demonstration of how big and small the world can be. Although I’m half way across the world I was still able to run into someone that I knew. Being in a place that is so totally different its nice to have a familiar face. Although I had only been in town for a few days it was great to verbally digest the political information that I had already been bombarded with. We both come from relatively similar backgrounds, in that we grew up with similar religious beliefs, in a middle class American town, and we blessed with a university education. She has spend her time here gathering stories and perspectives, from various stand points. To hear what she has learned and her stance was a great introduction. Unfortunately her synopsis is that the more you know, the more difficult and cloudy the situation becomes.

10492220_10100285313057499_3790358728890243771_n

J-town So Far….

After a 32+ hour marathon of travel connections I arrived in the Tel Aviv airport, just a little tired and disoriented. It was a glorious welcome to have most of my host family waiting for me at arrivals. I left the same family last year at the Amsterdam airport in a violent fit of tears, unsure when I would see their little faces again. I never imagined I would be lucky enough to see these nuggets so soon. As with all good friends, we picked up right where we left off, even though we were meeting a year later which is practically a lifetime in children world.

Last day with the family July 2013, and my how they have grown.

Last day with the family July 2013, and my how they have grown.

My glorious host family wasted no time getting me into the swing of things. Within the first couple days they had taken me to the Machane Yehuda Market, along with a couple more major shopping areas, Garden Tomb, Mediterranean Beach, as well as the Dead Sea. Unsurprisingly I needed a couple days to recover from transportation as well as travel.

The neighborhood

The neighborhood

So far Jerusalem has been everything I hoped it would be, and more. The neighborhood we’re staying in is “old” however new by Jerusalem standards, built in the 1800’s. There’s outdoor markets galore and just about everything is within walking distance, including the Old City which holds the holiest sites for Islam, Judaism, and Christian religions, as well as countless other old and significant sites.  I may need another 6 weeks after this trip to process everything here, between the culture, history, and current politics.

IMGP1521

IMGP1659

I'm floating in the Dead Sea, I'm really floating!!!

I’m floating in the Dead Sea, I’m really floating!!!

Why I’m walking.

Path-1-001In just a couple days I’ll be wandering across Spain. I suppose wandering isn’t the correct term as there is a specific goal in mind, however the travel will be slow going. As mentioned earlier I’ll be taking part in the Camino de Santiago* pilgrimage, walking from Irun to Camino de Santiago, Spain. Sure walking 20+km/ day, sleeping on rock hard beds, and questionable food, for 5 weeks doesn’t seem like everyone’s idea of a great summer holiday. But I can’t think of any other way I’d like to spend my last month in Europe. Although this pilgrimage is originally a Catholic journey, I have a variety of reasons other than the dogmatic motivation.

In the last three years abroad I have had an incredible time meeting a variety people and having once in a lifetime experiences, but I also feel that my priorities have gone off course. I am looking forward to these next 5 weeks of walking to take value in simplicity. I will be looking to get more from less. Less stuff. I’ll be walking with a pack that’s less than 15lbs and far smaller than a carry-on suitcase, filled with 2 changes of clothes, a sleeping bag, water, and a few other essentials. I hope to adjust to having and needing only the essential items rather than comfort and social status. In a more abstract term I’m also looking forward to being less connected. Internet service is not gaurenteed throughout the Camino, but I’m also choosing to only check my email and refrain from facebook during the journey. Like many other people I have become far too dependent on social media for communication and entertainment. While facebook does serve a great purpose to keep people connected, I find myself spending far too much time looking at people I hardly know, or pages just wasting time. I want to work on focusing on the world at hand, the people, sights, smells, sounds and experiences rather than the latest banter about television dramas. In that case if you would like to reach me my email: ediekman@gmail.com will be the best way to reach me.

I’m also hoping to meet a variety of people, who have things and wisdom to share. I’m leaving my heart open to the adventures and characters I’ll meet along the way. On that note, I’ll catch ya in 5 weeks, and 500 miles, on the other side of Spain.

*Primer on the Camino courtesy of Wikipedia: “Today tens of thousands[12] of Christian pilgrims and many other travellers set out each year from their front doorstep, or popular starting points across Europe, to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few travel as some of their medieval counterparts did, on horseback or by donkey (for example, the British author and humourist Tim Moore). In addition to people undertaking a religious pilgrimage, the majority are travellers and hikers who walk the route for non-religious reasons: travel, sport, or simply the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign land. Also, many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It serves as a retreat for many modern “pilgrims”.

Searching for the fields of flowers.

IMGP8290Tulip fields in Holland probably rank in the top 10 of stereotypical landscapes around the world. When I found out that I was moving to the Netherlands I imagined that pretty much the entire country would be covered in colorful flowers year round. Ok maybe not year round, but at least the flowers would be everywhere. Upon arrival I found that certainly isn’t the case. Much like the sakura or cherry blossoms in Japan, there’s a 2-3 week window in the year where the flowers come out in a dazzling display before wilting away. However this dazzling display is restricted to a small area between the cities of Haarlem and Amsterdam. So in order to see witness my ideal Dutch landscape there would have to be a day trip in order.

IMGP8328Vic and I made plans to take our bikes on the train to the area and ride around. However on the morning of we were feeling especially adventurous and motivated and decided to cycle to the flowers instead of taking a train. And we were just going to cycle, we were going to take the scenic route. The day started out fantastic riding through the dunes, making great time, even stopping for a mid ride hot chocolate.

IMGP8294 IMGP8296When were were 3/4 of the way our great travel karma ended. Vic got a flat. Normally that isn’t a huge deal in Holland as you’re never more an a few km away from a bike shop. But it was a Sunday, on a holiday weekend, and the town we were in was completely shut down. Vic couldn’t ride far on a flat, and there wasn’t a train station nearby, the outlook was pretty grim. We found a community bike pump and she managed to get her bike to the next town over, Noordwijk.

IMGP8275 IMGP8269Luckily Noordwijk was one of the only towns open in the area, not only were most shops open, bike repair shops were open. Thanks to our lucky stars, Vic got her tire fixed and we were able to move on. Or so we thought. Shortly after pulling out of the bike shop, a cyclist cut me off, slammed into my front wheel leaving me horizontal in the middle of the road. I pulled myself off the ground, out of traffic, and examined Alan (my bike) and I for injuries. I got out of the ordeal unscathed, but Alan didn’t share in my good fortune. His wheel bore a stronger resemblance to a banana than a circle leaving Alan unridable. We were still walking distance from the bike shop, and returned to get Alan straightened out. Along he wasn’t as good a new, he was functional, and we would be able to continue our quest for flowers.

969496_10151355192580947_1691088465_n 942260_10151355192190947_1596037762_nOnce on the road again, it was less than a 15 minute ride from the flowers. If it was much farther I can only imagine what other messes we would have gotten ourselves into. We had the obligatory photo shoot to prove that we made it then picnicked, before beginning the journey home. (We had to hurry home to beat and oncoming storm) While the days events were much more than I bargained for, the flowers were everything that I expected and hope for. Between the ride distance, finicky weather, and bicycle issues, it was one heck of a day. Was it worth it just to see some flowers? Absolutely.

947033_10151355193060947_1403630856_n

Cheeky trip to Londontown

216344_971707463649_1020388948_nLast weekend I took a quick little trip to London to visit my pal Jacob. (yes the same one that came to visit and cheat on his monarchy for queen’s day) Although I’ve already been, I was told by Dutch immigration that if i wanted to stay in Europe till July I would have to leave the European continent, and get my passport stamped and re stamped. Luckily there’s a bus service between Amsterdam and London so I was able to take a weekend jaunt on a low budget. Well, low budget does not mean fast as far as transportation is concerned. Roundtrip I clocked 30 hours of travel to stay in Londontown for 32 hours. But who’s complaining, I just took a quick weekend trip to London, that’s still pretty rad.

907834_10151436918218526_729835617_n-polaAs for my drive-through speed impression of London and its inhabitants: its certainly more diverse than the Netherlands. There’s a a huge amount of cultures that collide in the city to make an interesting mix. People jay walk like nobody’s business. Not only do they cross whenever they please they make you seem like a fool when waiting for a crossing signal. Never mind the approaching cars, they’ve got to get to the other side of the street. Even though most people are speaking english it doesn’t mean I can understand them. Riding on the double decker red buses is not nearly as magical as it seems. Especially when its the night bus and someone is sick all over the exit. Those iconic red buses are best left to be observed from the outside. Hopefully its not the last time I’m in the city, however there’s plenty of places for me to go that I haven’t been yet. Its also great to see a friend that I made in Japan, even after we’ve both been away for more than a year. Its comforting to know that I will still see the friends I’ve made abroad, and there’s still more adventures to be had with these pals.

Amsterdam’s Orange Sea of Humanity – Queen’s Day

944959_10200180228963335_1725666117_nAmerica has 4th of July, Ireland St. Patrick’s Day, the French Bastille Day, and the Dutch have Queen’s Day. I feel like I may be losing what little there is left of my patriotism when I say that Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) could be even better than the 4th of July. The entire country of the Netherlands seems to come out to party in a giant mass of orange. Each year Amsterdam welcomes an additional 700,000 visitors to celebrate the royal house of Orange. This year was an even bigger deal because it was the day that the Queen Beatrix handed down the thrown to her son Williem Alexander. It was both the inauguration and the last Queen’s day, as next year will be Kings day.

225643_10151432549803526_1514070040_nI had heard about the magic of Queen’s day since I arrived in the Netherlands nearly a year ago, there were some serious expectations to live up to. My friend Jacob also heard about the magic and decided that it was a grand time to come visit me. We teamed up with a Vic and John (team JJEV) to take on both Den Haag and Amsterdam for 24 hours of Royal celebration. And celebrate we did.

262339_10151432551303526_1574245492_nTeam JEVV started out the celebration on Queen’s night, the night before Queen’s day in Den Haag. The city was in full festival swing. There were 8 stages set up throughout the city, and a constant flow of people frolicking the streets dressed in their finest orange attire. We caught a few of the live performances and took in the general atmosphere of the city before retiring for the night.

943052_10151432550998526_1578719571_nOn the day of the Queen we dragged ourselves out of bed and onto a train bound for Amsterdam. Although we weren’t fully recovered from the previous night’s celebrations, we dove straight into day two, using the train ride to catch some additional rest. We started in Dam Square to watch some of the inauguration ceremony. Although the actual ceremony took place inside the Nieuwe Kirk, giant screens were set up around the square to give the public a view into the ceremony. The atmosphere in the square was pretty remarkable, a feeling of composed celebration mixed with a dash of anticipation, and a pinch of patriotism. We didn’t stay too long as none of us were terribly attached to Miss B and we couldn’t understand the Dutch speeches.

The new King and Queen

The new King and Queen

We met up with a few more friends and went on our way through the city navigating the canals and streets finding various adventures. Along the way there was certainly an air of enterprise throughout the city. During Queen’s day the licensing and tax laws have been placed on hold for sales, thus making it possible for anyone to sell just about anything. People had tables and tarpes set out selling everything from fine antiques, to old McDonald’s toys. There were even houses selling use of their toilets. In addition to the road celebrations, the famous canals of Amsterdam were filled with orange boats. People took the party to the water and cruised around the city in a riggata of celebration.

922933_10151432550088526_1624237534_n

toilet salesman

 After walking through the streets our ultimate destination was a music festival in the Olympic stadium. Since the Queens’ day street celebrations generally end around 5 we thought that we would extend the party at a festival. We danced around like maniacs to a collection of sounds created by DJ’s until the sun went down, and decided to take our tired selves back home.

261944_10151436135123526_1801794821_nKoninginnedag certainly lived up to my expectations, I’ve got a whole new appreciation for the Dutch as well as the color orange.

 

*photos curesty of my pals John and Jacob.

Pillow Fight!!!

69471_960870985039_661002325_nOn April 6th, Ria, Vic, and I marched into Dam Square, Amsterdam armed and ready to face the flying arms and clouds of feathers. Our weapons were pillows and we were ready to participate in one of the world’s largest pillow fights. The 30 minutes we spent in the fray were some of the happiest minutes of my life. Seriously, that was sheer joy, just laughing and getting hit in the head with fluffy pillows and covered in feathers. We were in  a group of several hundred strangers gathered for the simple purpose of play. There weren’t  people that hit too hard or other malicious intentions.  I was either smiling or laughing the entire time. We had to pull out eventually because we had inhaled too many feathers to function and our faces hurt from the constant expression of joy.

 563862_10151313946905947_575650286_nDid I do a good enough job selling the genius of a giant grown up pillow fight? Well lucky you, these shin digs actually happen all over the world. April 6th is actually international pillow fight day and there’s a whole website with designated sites in over 20 cities around the world, as well as information to start your own pillow gathering if there isn’t already one in your area. http://2013.pillowfightday.com/  Think about it, you could start the pillow revolution in your area. How sweet is that.

2996_10151313947050947_683110750_nAs if a day centered around a pillow fight wasn’t great enough we found a proper ramen shop in Amsterdam. The first good Ramen I’ve had in a year. Bliss would really be the only appropriate word to use for that day.